Golden-crowned Sparrow

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

In early October a Golden-crowned Sparrow showed up in the yard of local birder Brian Elder. This species is almost never seen in the city. The bird stayed in the area for a few days, and many local birders were able to see it. Gavin McKinnon photographed it on October 8.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

Golden-crowned Sparrows are normally found in the western mountains of North America. They breed as far north as Alaska, and migrate to the west coast of the continental US to spend the winter (they are also present in winter on the BC coast and southern mainland, and some overwinter on the western Alaskan coast). The occasional one that turns up here is probably on its way to the west coast of the US.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

This species is in the genus Zonotrichia, which also includes Harris’s Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and White-throated Sparrow (all of which can be seen in Calgary), and the Rufous-collared Sparrow which is native to Mexico, Central and South America. White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows breed here, and many more are seen in Calgary on migration as well. Harris’s Sparrow (the only songbird that breeds exclusively in Canada) migrates mostly through Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but a few are seen here every spring and fall.

When the Golden-crowned Sparrow was in Brian’s yard, a Harris’s Sparrow was also present. Gavin photographed this bird too.

Harris’s Sparrow, NW Calgary, October 8, 2017. Photo by Gavin McKinnnon.

At one point, both a White-crowned and a White-throated Sparrow were also there, so Brian had all four of the local Zonotrichia species in his yard at the same time – certainly a very rare and possibly unique circumstance for Calgary.

These four species are all large and similar in structure. Here are the other two local Zonotrichia species, photographed in Calgary in earlier years by Dan Arndt.

White-throated Sparrow, February 2, 2014. Photo by Dan Arndt.

White-crowned Sparrow, September 11, 2015. Photo by Dan Arndt.

All of these birds are first-year or immature birds. Adults are more distinctive but are more often seen in the spring.

Here is a photo of the other Zonotrichia species, the Rufous-collared Sparrow. If you see one of these, you are no longer in Calgary.

Rufous-collard Sparrow from Wikimedia Commons. By BERNARDO VALENTIN – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Wild Bird Store Event – 20th Anniversary and Grand Re-opening

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The Wild Bird Store is one of the few places in Calgary where you can buy good quality bird seed, feeders, and houses, and the only store that specializes in products for birders. Recently they have moved to a new location, and this Saturday, October 21, they will have an all-day 20th anniversary and grand re-opening event at their new location, 5901-3 Street SE (on 58 Avenue, three blocks west of Blackfoot Trail).

Besides the savings for backyard birders, there will be several interesting presentations throughout the day that should interest all local birders: Chris Fisher’s All-Star Critters, Myrna Pearman on Bird Feeding Behavior, and Gus Yaki on Attracting Birds to Your Backyard. At the end, Gus will also do a presentation on the ten-day walk he led this spring from the Saskatchewan border to Writing-On-Stone Provincial park.

The Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society will also be there (with live birds of prey), as will the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation. So there will be plenty going on to interest birders of all ages!

The new Wild Bird Store is located at 5901-3 Street SE.

Migrant Sparrows: White-throated and Chipping

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

More birds from my backyard. The White-throated Sparrows were around for just a couple of days in the first week of May (although I heard one singing in the neighbourhood this morning, possibly a late migrant grounded by the strong winds and rain we had yesterday). Chipping Sparrows passed through last week, and I counted up to thirty in my yard one day, along with a few of the closely-related Clay-colored Sparrows.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

White-throated Sparrow, Calgary, May 7, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

The above photo shows the sharply contrasting white throat patch and the yellow lores that are keys to identifying this species. Some White-throated Sparrows have tan and black rather than white and black head stripes, but they should always show the white throat and a least a little yellow on the lores.

The tan and black variation is a colour morph which some White-throated Sparrows have throughout their lives. It is not a juvenile characteristic, like the tan and gray head stripes of the White-crowned Sparrow. All White-crowns have tan stripes as juveniles, and white stripes as adults. Here is an old photo of an adult White-crowned Sparrow. Besides the lack of a white throat and yellow lores, note the clean gray breast and spotted back feathers which are quite different from the White-throated Sparrow. The pale bill (pink or yellow) also stands out.

White-crowned Sparrow, Calgary, May 10, 2010. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Below are a few of the Chipping Sparrows that were in my yard. There were thousands in yards all over the city that week.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Chipping Sparrow, Calgary, May 18, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Both of these species breed in the city. White-throated Sparrows are common in the Weaselhead, the west end of Fish Creek Park, and other parts of the city where the boreal forest intrudes. You can hear their beautiful song there right now. Chipping Sparrows breed throughout the city, even in suburbs in low numbers. Their song is a long, dry, steady trill, which is sometimes mistaken for an insect sound.

Other birds I’ve had pass through my yard recently on migration include White-crowned Sparrows (in pretty low numbers this year) around the end of April and first week of May, Ruby-crowned Kinglet at about the same time, and a Baltimore Oriole briefly on May 21.

Goldfinch and Other Backyard Birds

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

The first American Goldfinch of the year arrived in our yard on Mother’s Day.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

American Goldfinch (male), Calgary, May 14, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Although I occasionally hear goldfinches flying over in the summer, they don’t stay to breed in my neighbourhood and I usually don’t see them in my yard except on spring and fall migration.

There are Northern Flickers here year-round, and there are at least a couple that are still courting, so maybe this is the year that my Flicker nest box finally get used (by Flickers, rather than House Sparrow, Starlings, or squirrels).

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

Northern Flicker (intergrade male), Calgary, May 16, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

This year our local pair of Swainson’s Hawks is building a nest just down the block, so I’m seeing and hearing a lot of them. I will post more about these birds as the season goes along.

Swainson’s Hawk, Calgary, April 30, 2017. Photo by Bob Lefebvre.

The Birds & the Bees – Seminar This Weekend

Spring migration is bringing new birds to our yards every day now, so you may want to learn more about backyard bird feeding. Golden Acre Home & Garden in Calgary is hosting a seminar this weekend on backyard birding and on beekeeping.

A Northern Flicker feeding on nuts in a Calgary yard.

Alex Taylor of Sun Country Farms will do a presentation on feeding birds, including what types of feed to use at different times of year. This will be followed by another talk on beekeeping. There is also a sale on bird seed this weekend.

To sign up to attend this free seminar on either Saturday or Sunday, and for more information, see this page.

Golden Acres Home & Garden is located just off McKnight Blvd. and Edmonton Trail, at 620 Goddard Avenue NE. It is well-known as a garden centre, but they have just revamped their birding supplies department and will be offering waste-free seeds and nuts from a Canadian supplier that uses sustainable practices. They even have some seeds that are processed in a allergy-aware facility, so that any child can safely begin to feed birds. Proper bird-feeding is important, so this is a welcome addition for local backyard birders.

Sunday Showcase: Leucistic Sparrow

Jahzi Van Iderstine saw this leucistic House Sparrow in her yard in Airdrie, just north of Calgary, in mid-August. It appears to be a young House Sparrow as it is associating with them and has been seen begging from a female House Sparrow.  All photos by Jahzi Van Iderstine.


The bird has dark eyes, so it is not an albino, but it is almost completely white and actually appears a bit pinkish. Leucism is a condition in which some of the dark and coloured pigments are missing from a bird’s feathers.



Here it is with other House Sparrows:



And below it is begging from a female House Sparrow who has a sunflower seed:


Here are a few more photos of this striking bird:





Backyard Birds: Baltimore Oriole

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Most birders know that Baltimore Orioles will feed on oranges, but have you ever tried this in your yard? Even if you aren’t near their nesting habitat, you may get one on migration, as I did five years ago.

Below is a re-post of something I posted originally on June 1, 2011. Since then, I haven’t had any more Orioles (and still no Catbirds) in my yard – but I’m still trying!


Oranges for Orioles – originally posted June 1, 2011, by Bob Lefebvre.

For the last couple of years I have been putting out slices of oranges in my yard in the hopes of attracting Baltimore Orioles or Gray Catbirds.  I place the oranges on my tray feeder and in suet cages.  So far this has attracted only ants.  Last Friday morning, I thought that perhaps the heavy rain might force some migrants down, so I put out two fresh orange halves on a flower planter.  Within a half hour of arriving home in the afternoon, I looked out to see this bird feeding on the orange.

This first-year Baltimore Oriole stayed around the yard for two days, feeding on all the oranges, including the ones in the suet cage that I had placed there about two weeks before.

So if you want to see a Baltimore Oriole in your yard, putting out oranges really does work.  Now I’m just waiting for that Catbird.